Teaching the Stop Command
by Nancy Lee Obermark
The Stop will be one of the most important commands a handler can teach their dog. The dog stopping in an exact spot can make the difference in accomplishing a chore correctly, winning or losing in a trial situation, or even saving a dog's life.
Introduce the stop command to a dog away from stock. I walk with the dog on a 10-15 ft. long line. The width of the line I use depends on the size of the dog I'm training. You wouldn't want to use too heavy a line on one of the lighter weight breeds nor too light a line on a large dog.
I also carry a medium-size plastic rake. I'll frequently stop in place myself, and then ask the dog to "stop". It is their choice to stand, sit, or down. Be willing to show your dog first what you want. If they try to avoid the command and go around me, I'll use the rake at ground level, with the rake fingers upward toward the dog, angling the rake a bit, so it blocks the dog from moving forward.
If the rake is too intimidating to the dog then try using a smaller rake, a crook or a stock stick. If the dog is trying to walk thru the stop command, try slapping the long line back toward the dog for a collar correction which may keep the dog from advancing forward. Immediately praise your dog after the correction. Depending on how much drive the dog has and how motivated it is will determine the method of reward. Some dogs are quite content with verbal praise or stroking their head while others may need a small food reward. I believe most all dogs are going to need one or the other, or a combination of both, especially in the early stages training this exercise.
Always go over to the dog to reward. Do not let the dog come to you. Too often a dog anticipates the call off and breaks the stop and runs or walks over to the handler. So it's best in the beginning to go to your dog for the reward and call off until they understand what is expected of them.
Remember that patting the dog loads them up with excitement. So, unless I need more enthusiasm from the dog I just stroke the dog's head and back to calm them. In calmness, the dog is more likely to be able to think clear.
Allow your dog to stand, sit, or down when they stop. It does not have to be consistent or perfect. If your your dog tries to come forward after the stop command is given, be ready to use your pressure tool--crook, rake, stick--to have them step back where they came from without a verbal command given. Follow with praise. Be willing to repeat this as many times as it takes to get the stop accomplished. Remember that you will need to allow imperfection to gain perfection.
As with most things, the more frequently something is done, the quicker it will be learned. Don't expect your dog to learn this in a day or two. Be careful that your training is balanced. Training takes time and patience and too much training of one thing will be counter-productive so don't dwell on one specific item very long and make your training sessions short!
About the Author: Nancy Lee Obermark has over thirty years experience in dog training. She is an AKC licensed herding judge, nationally known training instructor, and author of two herding training manuals. Ms. Obermark is the breeder, handler, owner, trainer, of breed champion and triple herding champion Border Collies and German Shepherd and five time German Shepherd Herding National winner.